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VOL. 43 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 5, 2019

Major league city requires major league baseball

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Can Nashville truly be a major league city without Major League Baseball? My take on that later.

Meanwhile, I’m good with Nashville’s Music City, It-city status. The symphony, the Frist, the many fine universities, medical facilities and publishing houses.

The downtown library is outstanding. The restaurants are daring, some of them, and solid, much of the rest. (Meat-and-threes are where God eats lunch.) First-rate entertainment abounds.

People flock here in droves, whether as visitors – a record 15.2 million in 2018, according to the Nashville Convention and Visitor Corp. – or new permanent residents, almost 100 a day.

Praiseworthy, all. Take a bow, Nashville.

But …

The fact is, sports – by which I mean professional, big-time sports – put their mark on cities in ways that other entities can’t. Case in point: the way the on-ice success of the Predators has created a catfish-tossing, Smashville civic identity that couldn’t have been imagined before the NHL came to town.

“The Predator model is just amazing,” says John Loar. “It’s just proven that an expansion, home-grown Tennessee team – what they have accomplished is amazing.”

Loar, one of those new residents as of last year, is a businessman from the San Francisco Bay area who, among other sports-related ventures, has been involved with efforts to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Florida Marlins. It’s his goal to bring a major league baseball team to Nashville, ideally in five to seven years.

Right now, he’s in the research stage, gathering information on the various puzzle parts that go into such a project.

“There’s a baseball piece, a real estate piece, a stadium piece,” he says. “There’s the potential for a regional sports network.”

“It’s a marathon, it really is.”

Loar is also, under the auspices of his Music City Baseball organization, looking into Tennessee and local historical ties with Negro Baseball League, with hopes of including a satellite branch of its Kansas City national museum in a stadium here.

“We’re looking even at a name for a team that would tie into that rich period of Nashville baseball,” he said, an era that included teams like the Black Vols and the Elite Giants. And he enthuses about the possibilities of potential regional rivalries with the Cubs, Cardinals and Braves.

If it all sounds like a pipe dream – and not too long ago that’s exactly what it would have been – consider the fellow who more or less got it started: Rob Manfred, the commissioner of major league baseball.

Asked last summer about possible expansion sites, should baseball go from 30 to 32 teams, Manfred put Nashville on the list of six cities.

Loar thinks a Southern team could come down to us, or Charlotte or Raleigh in North Carolina.

True, Nashville’s been snubbed before: in 1993, when franchises instead went to Denver (Rockies) and Miami (Marlins); and in 1998, when Phoenix got the Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay got what were then the Devil Rays.

But that was then, and this is now. Just look at the building cranes all around town, Loar adds, to understand what gives Nashville its MLB momentum.

Look also at the Titans, another pillar of sports identity for the area, and the coming Major League Soccer franchise, with its new stadium to be at the Tennessee Fairgrounds.

Doesn’t all that already make Nashville a major league city?

I’d argue no. (Dare I say that Major League Soccer is an oxymoron along the lines of jumbo shrimp?) Only baseball, with its gentle, historical hold on the nation’s psyche and soul, confers that title. Big league baseball. Right now, we’re in the minors with our Triple-A Sounds.

But the Sounds, which have been around since 1978, also are the key to attracting a major league team. Last year they ranked fourth in attendance for teams of their level, attracting an average of more than 8,700 fans per game. A recent exhibition at their newish First Tennessee Park with the new parent club Texas Rangers drew nearly 12,000 folks, a record.

“Their success has further fueled this opportunity,” Loar says. “It’s a great organization; they’ve paved the way.”

Not coincidentally (I can read a schedule), the Sounds start their season this week. The better they do drawing crowds, the better our chance for reaching the major league – and major league – level.

It’s a fine place to spend a few hours, believe me.

Hint. Hint.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com.

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